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A Film by Michael Kantor



Eddie Cantor

Eddie Cantor

Born: January 31, 1892
Died: October 10, 1964
Key Shows
  • "Broadway Brevities"
  • "Make It Snappy"
  • "Nellie Bly"
  • "Whoopee!"
  • "Ziegfeld Follies"
Related Artists
  • Irving Berlin
  • Fanny Brice
  • Al Jolson
  • Bert Williams
  • Florenz Ziegfeld
When Cantor met Ziegfeld for the first time, he was bucking to get a one-night shot in the Frolic. “I’m marvelous!” he told Ziegfeld. When the producer wondered why he should believe him, Cantor shot back, “Why, Mr. Ziegfeld, I wouldn’t lie to you.” Cantor’s gig at the Frolic stretched to 27 weeks and by 1917, he was performing downstairs in the “Follies” and would become practically a ward of Ziegfeld’s state. A fatherless waif born Edward Israel Iskowitz in 1892 and raised by his grandmother in dire poverty on the Lower East Side, Cantor began as a street-corner entertainer, just like Irving Berlin, and broke through the ranks of vaudeville with a brash confidence that bordered on unmitigated gall.

He found a second career in movies and radio in the 1930s.

A hyperkinetic comedian, dancer, and singer, Cantor performed in blackface for his early “Follies” appearances, but gradually gave it up to cultivate a more accessible persona as a neurotic wisenheimer who could punctuate a corny line with a roll of his inimitable “banjo” eyes. Adopted offstage as the “third musketeer” by his older colleagues W. C. Fields and Will Rogers, Cantor developed into a versatile and popular comedian under Ziegfeld’s guidance and eventually starred in several vehicles of his own for the producer in the 1920s. Cantor’s specialty numbers, like “Margie” and “Makin’ Whoopee,” made him a successful recording artist, and he found a second career in movies and radio in the 1930s.

Source: Excerpted from BROADWAY: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL by Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon. Published by Bulfinch Press.

Photo credits: Photofest and the New York Public Library